Asked to do a piece for Local History Month I was considering various buildings and people of Warminster. Then with the ongoing Covid virus affecting us all I remembered my lunch time walk through the town park. A glorious spring day, people were meeting friends and family. A joyous sight, seeing grannies and grandads meeting up with young grandchildren, not seen for weeks, friends were picnicking from a distance. There was a lot of smiles and laughter. A real tonic for people after a long lockdown. We are so lucky to have this lovely environment to go to. Long may it be a place for meeting friends and family, for children to play in the playground, and paddle in the paddling pool. For friends to sit on bench’s round the lake, admiring the ducks on the lake, the glorious trees and lovely flowers. The Smallbrook Nature Reserve to walk through with lovely wildflowers and lots of birds, what’s not to like!
The History of the Park
The idea for the Town Park was originally suggested and designed as a Remembrance of the Coronation of King George V in 1911. This did not happen then, but was brought up again in 1922. After the First World War unemployment was high so it became a work creation scheme. A loan was received from The Ministry of Health in the December, and the Unemployment Grants Committee also paid an unemployment grant. Half the £8,000 cost of scheme was wages for the workers.
The site chosen was the town’s Old Refuse Tip in Weymouth Street, a boggy area, and the need for a major removal of soil, then levelling the site.
Local Studies Library – the elderly volumes that might surprise you!
I can’t believe it’s been 5 years this month since I was lucky enough to become the County Local Studies Librarian here at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre. In this time, I’ve had the exciting opportunity to learn a lot more about Wiltshire’s fantastic Wiltshire Studies collection, both at the History Centre and in the county’s many local libraries. You could spend a lifetime delving into the items we hold; there is never enough time in the day to enjoy looking at the collection and the many and varied topics, people and places that span hundreds of years.
The items in our collection have found their way to us through many different means. Some have been purchased, others gifted or donated by kind individuals, many local residents who share our belief that Wiltshire’s treasures should stay in the county for everyone to access and enjoy. Others have been in the ‘library’ system much longer, from reading rooms at places such as the Mechanics Institute in Swindon, historically part of the Wiltshire local authority before Swindon became unitary in 1997.
Local Studies libraries are classed as a ‘special collection’, and within Wiltshire’s are items dating from the 17th century to today. You would be surprised to learn how robust the most elderly items in our collection are; the acid in modern paper makes modern books more troublesome to keep safe. Even so, we like to keep an eye on our oldest items to ensure they are well looked after. I am currently conducting a condition survey to check on their wellbeing and the process has been very informative, opening my eyes to the rich variety of items we hold.
Our journey begins with some of our oldest items; Civil War and Commonwealth pamphlets from 1647-1658 (ref. AAA.946). These include the impeachment of members of the House of Commons by Sir Thomas Fairfax in 1647, an account of the speech of King Charles I on the scaffold in 1649 and a copy of the Commonwealth Mercury dated 25 November 1658, describing the removal of the body of the late Oliver Cromwell from Whitehall.
I decided start with Know Your Place to find my location and settled on Canon Square in Melksham. Know Your Place is always a good starting point for researching local or building history, the historic maps can be easily compared with the modern day map, and there is the added benefit of information layers including monuments, community pins and Wilkinson postcards for additional insights. You can find a guide on our website on how to make the most out of the Know Your Place.
The 25 inch Ordnance Survey map from the 1880s showed the street layout of Canon Square was much the same at that date as it is today.
Going a little further back in time, Know Your Place also hosts Tithe Maps (above). The tithes were a tax levied by the Church which required one tenth of agricultural produce to go to support the local church and clergy (or lay owners who inherited these entitlements with land following the Reformation). The 1836 Tithe Commutation Act required these tithes to be converted into monetary payments and the Tithe Survey was established to assess which areas were titheable, who owned them, how much was payable and to whom. This information was recorded in an accompanying apportionment, making them a fantastic source for understanding land use, and also who owned and lived where!
“Now thus much without vanity may be asserted of the subject, that if all persons, both Ladies, much more Gentlemen, would spend some of their time in Journeys to visit their native Land, and be curious to Inform themselves and make observations of the pleasant prospects, good buildings, different produces and manufactures of each place, with the variety of sports and recreations they are adapt to, would be a souvereign remedy to cure or preserve from these Epidemic diseases of vapours, should I add Laziness? – it would also form such an Idea of England, add much to its Glory and Esteem in our minds and cure the evil Itch of overvalueing foreign parts..”
So begins the work of Celia Fiennes published as “Through England on a Side Saddle in the time of William and Mary” by her descendant Emily Griffiths in 1888. Celia Fiennes was born in Newton Tony, Wiltshire on the 7 June 1662 and died on 10 April 1741 in Hackney aged 78, buried on the 17th April in Newton Tony. She was one of England’s first female travellers and was unusual for her time in travelling the length and breadth of the country on horseback with only one or two servants for company.
She was born to Nathaniel Fiennes, a Parliamentarian colonel during the civil war and politician, and his second wife, Frances Whitehead. Celia spent most of her younger years in Newton Tony, living at the manor house on the west side of the High Street. The house was largely demolished in the early 19th century but its kitchen later became part of the Three Horse Shoes. Her parents were non-conformist and a group of Presbyterians met at their house, and in 1672 the house was certified for Presbyterian meetings.
Celia Fiennes mostly travelled during the period 1684-1703 but continued intermittently until 1712. Her earlier journeys were predominatly in the south, including to Salisbury, Bath and Stonehenge. In 1697 she travelled in the north and then in 1698 undertook her Great Journey travelling to Newcastle, the Lake District, Durham to the South-west Gloucester, Bristol and Cornwall (to Land’s End).
Remarkably, her travels emcompassed every county in England 100 years before the Stagecoach. She travelled sidesaddle on horseback, with only one or two servants staying in inns and sometimes in the country houses of her connections (often seeing these buildings in stages of construction). She wrote notes as she travelled and eventually wrote them all up into a memoir in 1702, originally intended only for family reading. Her explorations began as a way for her ‘to regain my health by variety and change of aire and exercise’ but her notes demonstrate she had a keen interest in the places she visited. She had a particular interest in mining and industry and also often remarks on the local food she eats, the roads she travelled on and the houses she stayed in: a valuable source for historians! Through her words we get a glimpse of 17th century everyday life. We might never have thought about what it would be like to travel the country without signposts but she highlights them as a notable feature remarking on ‘posts and hands pointing to each road with the names of the great towns or market towns that it leads to’.
Her travels in Wiltshire and its locality prove interesting reading. You can probably guess where she is referring to with this statement, visiting around 1690: ‘This… is reckon'd one of the wonders of England how such prodigeous stone should be brought there, as no such Stone is seen in ye Country nearer than 20 mile.’ If you guessed Stonehenge you are correct!
Sophie Hawke, Finds Liaison Officer for Wiltshire:
Hello, I am the new Finds Liaison Officer for Wiltshire, job sharing with Wil Partridge at The Salisbury Museum. I started in my new role at the beginning of January but have only managed three days in the office so far, due to Covid lockdown restrictions.
Like Wil, I have been working from home. This is a bonus in some ways as it’s warmer at home than in the office (we are situated directly above the medieval porch at work so any heat rises up to the ceiling and stays there) and my travel time to work is currently ten seconds as opposed to an hour. On the down side, I have to tidy up before any Zoom calls and hope that no-one rings the doorbell whilst I’m unmuted on Zoom as my dogs will bark incessantly at the bell.
I have always been fascinated by archaeology. I joined the Young Archaeologists’ Club in Dorchester, Dorset aged 10 (a long time ago), then went on my first dig aged 11, at Dewlish Roman villa. I was hooked!
Fast forward a few years, I studied at University of Bristol for a Certificate in Archaeology with Mick Aston as my tutor, started a family, did an Open University degree, then immediately returned to Bristol Uni, with Mick as one of my lecturers, for a part time MA in Landscape Archaeology.
During all this, I started work at a secondary school and stayed for 15 years, as part of my role there was (and still is in a voluntary capacity) as Archaeology Liaison Officer for the Roman villa under the School playing field. In 2018, I was awarded a Headley Trust internship with the Portable Antiquities Scheme at The Salisbury Museum, and Historic England. Following this I worked for Historic England as a Finds Supervisor and just before Christmas 2020, I was offered this Wiltshire FLO job. I love working with finds, meeting people and doing research so this is my dream job! My favourite find to date is a hoard of Roman pewter found near Westbury. When the finder sent photos of it, Wil and I couldn’t believe our eyes as it contained a lead tank (see photo below), quite a rare find, which may be a portable font.
John Britton antiquary and topographer was born on the 7th July 1771 in Kington St Michael near Chippenham. He is best known for the books ‘The Beauties of England and Wales’ (1801) and ‘The Beauties of Wiltshire’ (1825).
He was the eldest of ten children brought up in a small cottage with one downstairs room, which was used as both parlour and kitchen. His father was the village baker and shopkeeper.
At sixteen he was apprenticed to a London wine merchant. He would visit when time permitted a Mr Essex, a literary dial painter who lent him books. He was also introduced to his future partner Mr Edward Brayley.
After ill health he left his apprenticeship and to get away from poverty he became a cellarman, clerk to a lawyer and recited and sang songs at a small theatre.
His literary career began when he became acquainted with a publisher producing work on the topography of Wiltshire and was commissioned to complete it with his friend Edward Brayley.
He died on January 1st 1857 and is buried in West Norwood Cemetery in London.
After his death, his library of topographical and antiquarian books was acquired, leading to the formation of the Wiltshire Archaeological and National History Society. Wiltshire Museum have a cabinet that he owned containing his books and papers.
The Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre also hold many of Britton’s works, including his autobiography published in 1850, ref. XBR.921.
Sue Tuersley, Library Assistant at Chippenham Library